Vivaldi’s Griselda – Pinchgut Opera, a Decade of Excellence

“Pinchgut Opera’s production of Vivaldi’s Griselda this evening was nothing short of SENSATIONAL. Don’t wait for a review. JUST GO! Three electrifying counter tenors, a mezzo bound for international stardom and the most committed conducting and playing. AND ALL AUSSIES!” said Food writer and arts festival director Leo Schofield on Facebook today, December 1, 2011.

Love and passion is always a powerful force for inspiration and artistic expression. Opera remains a significant tradition in western culture because it is all about love and life. It reflects the classical maturity of our society, while expressing its contemporary attitudes and philosophies, fashions and passions. Griselda is a ‘dramma per musica‘ in three acts, quite literally a play for music. It was composed to suit a revised version of an original text (libretto) written by Apostolo Zeno, which had been based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s (1313-1375) groundbreaking work The Decameron, a compilation of many different stories.

Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s Griselda is a rare opera to see performed and it is one with great integrity. Full marks to the Pinchgut Opera at Sydney, a superb chamber opera company that showcases very special and early musical works, for bringing it to fruition. This will be the first Australian production of this work with the title role sung by the lady with the ‘razor-sharp technique’, Caitlin Hulcup.

In the aesthetically beautiful acoustic chamber of the City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney in early December the music will be performed by the splendid Orchestra of the Antipodes under the direction of esteemed conductor Erin Helyard.  This tenth annual offering is sure to be both compelling and captivating. It is indeed wonderful to realise that the Pinchgut Opera, in honour of its patrons, private and professional supporters, as well as its devoted audience fans, instead of splashing out on huge celebrations for a landmark decade achievement, have instead taken the option of investing in an outstanding production team and the most brilliant voices for Vivaldi’s Griselda, which is really what Opera is all about. With voices all you need is the simplest of sets as a showcase. Past productions have revealed that the incredible team behind this amazing chamber opera company fully understand this important concept.

Pinchgut Opera in only ten short years of innovative and outstanding productions, have become a classic opera company in the fullest sense of the word, of the first or highest quality, class, or rank.  This piece is joyous. It is an outstanding work and represents the culmination of Vivaldi’s opera writing career. You will just have to be there! Saturday 3 or Monday 5 December are the days left with the best opportunities to secure seats. Please call the friendly people at the City Recital Hall box office on 02 8256 2222 and they will do their best to help. Online

John Williams Waterhouse, A Tale from the Decameron

Since the eighteenth century no matter how hard they try evidence of a relationship between Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and his contralto Anna Giró has not been found, except perhaps in the musical limitations of this piece written to suit the voice of perhaps his most famous pupil. Anna Girò (Anna Maddalene Tessieire) sang for the first time in a Vivaldi opera in 1726 and her successful career lasted until 1748 when she married and retired from performing.  Born at Mantua in Lombardy, Italy about 1711, she had gone to Venice to further her career as a singer. She was a contralto whose voice was not considered very strong. However she was said to be attractive with a talent for acting. Vivaldi must have agreed because he made her part of his entourage and she became his student, protégée and the prima donna of his subsequent operas. This was how the rumours of them being lovers first started. Vivaldi brushed them aside and denied them all, claiming artistry was what they were really on about.

A renowned Venetian playwright of his generation, Carlo Goldoni collaborated with Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741) to work through all the challenges of adapting it to suit Anna Giró’s vocal range.

Vivaldi was an interesting character, a priest as well as a composer of music. Born at Venice, his best known work, beloved by millions is The Four Seasons. He composed many sacred choral works as well as over 40 operas, works for the violin especially and instrumental concertos.

The opera Griselda encompasses all the emotions, love, honour, faithfulness, rejection, cruelty, endurance and forgiveness as well as such concepts as kidnapping, babies spirited away at birth, kings and queens and what comes naturally, true love! What more could anyone want. The music being by Vivaldi is certainly spectacular, and the story quite affecting. It requires a superb cast with great vocal and dramatic skills to perform it and the Pinchgut have gathered a unique cast to bring it to life.

Griselda: Caitlin Hulcup, is a truly wonderful Mezzo Soprano from the Arts Management stable of singers. Caitlin’s list of accomplishments since winning Opera Foundation Australia’s 2002 Covent Garden National Opera Studio Scholarship to study in London, are indeed impressive. They include making her debut at Covent Garden in 2009.

Her future engagements include Elvira Don Giovanni in Valencia, and the role of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier at Teatro del Maggio Musicale in Florence under Zubin Mehta.

Gualtiero: will be sung by Guildhall School of Music graduate Christopher Saunders, whose career since he won that prize in 1994 has indeed been impressive.  He sings in both opera and concert format, and has enjoyed singing a program of lieder for the Schubert Project at the National Academy of Music and Handel’s Messiah for the Prince of Wales.

He has sung leading roles for some of the most prestigious opera houses including English National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Opera North and the Covent Garden Festival.

Countertenor David Hansen

Ottone: David Hansen was described by Alex Ross of The New Yorker as …a pure-voiced young Australian who is typical of a new breed of matinée-idol countertenors’.

He is much in demand and this year alone has seen him performing in England, Sweden Norway, Spain, Italy, France and in the Neues Palais von Sanssouci at Potsdam in Germany. Following Griselda he will be performing the role of Rinaldo at Milan in Italy.

Costanza: Miriam Allan is an Australian soprano based in England, a vocal coach at Westminster Abbey and Head of Singing at Bloxham School in Oxfordshire. She has a warmth that reaches out to all within reach, and an emotional depth that will ensure the gravitas of her performance in this role.

Tobias Cole as Julius Caesar

Roberto: Countertenor Tobias Cole won the Churchill Fellowship in 1993 and the Metropolitan Opera Young Artist Study Award in 2002.

He has previously performed with the Pinchgut in Semele and in 2012 will return to Opera Australia where he has performed the title roles in Julius Caesar and Orlando to sing Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Corrado: Countertenor Russell Harcourt has won many awards since his operatic debut in 2007 as Oberon, the King of the Fairies in the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

He made his Australian concert debut in 2009 as a guest artist at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music and his Royal Opera House debut in the Crush Room in the Deloitte Ignite 2010 series.

Conductor Erin Helyard

Conductor: Bringing the musicians and singers together is Erin Helyard, who conducted L’Ormindo for the Pinchgut in 2009. Billed as a ‘Rock Star’ conductor, Helyard is a founder and co-artistic director for the Pinchgut Opera, and a central founding member of the Orchestra of the Antipodes.

Griselda is one of the finest operatic works of the period,” says Helyard, “and represents the high point of Vivaldi’s career. The core and soul of the piece is the splendid music, together with a story that remained popular for a thousand years. With our amazing cast and wonderful orchestra, this will be a night to remember.”

Director: Mark Gaal is a National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) graduate who directed Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans for the Pinchgut.

He has twice represented NIDA at international festivals: at the UNESCO / International Theatre Institute Festival, Romania, with his productions of Romeo and Juliet and Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers, and last year in Beijing, at the Global Alliance of Theatre Schools Festival with Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the devised work Devour.

Designer: David Fleischer is a graduate of NIDA in set and costume design. His credentials are impressive and include designing for the renowned Sydney Dance Company for their ‘new breed’ season in 2009.

Lighting Designer: Luiz Pampolha has an impressive list of lighting productions for the Sydney Theatre Company to his credit and has designed and co-designed productions for festivals in Edinburgh, Wellington, Belfast, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne Festivals. He is a NIDA graduate.

Orchestra of the Antipodes: It’s hard to find enough superlatives to describe this very special ensemble of early music musicians, whose prowess on original period instruments is more than impressive. The mellowness of the sound, the roundness of the tone and the emotional depths they plunge to can make you feel as if your heart is being torn out by beauty. It performs in the Pinchgut Opera’s annual production and records for ABC Classics.

Griselda was first performed at the Teatro S. Samuele at Venice 1735. It will be sung in Italian with English surtitles. It was a perfect choice to produce for a tenth anniversary as Boccaccio’s original collection of 100 stories in the Decameron# were meant to be told over the span of 10 days by seven ladies and three gentlemen.

Vivaldi’s Griselda – Pinchgut Opera
Where: City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney
When:  Opening Night: Wednesday 30 November 2011, 7:30pm
Saturday 3 December 2011, 7:30pm,
Sunday 4 December 2011, 5:00pm

Monday 5 December 2011, 7:30pm



Meet the Director and Discover the Story


Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2011

*Images used with the kind permission Pinchgut Opera and Arts Management
#The word “Decameron” is derived from the Greek and means “ten days”.


Opera Synopsis

Gualtiero, King of Tessaglia (Thessaly)
Griselda, His Wife, the Queen of Thessaly
Costanza, Daughter of Griselda and Gualtiero, Princess of Thessaly
Roberto, Prince of Atene (Athens)
Corrado, Roberto’s Brother
Ottone, Noble Knight of Thessaly

Gualtiero, king of Thessaly, has been forced by the will of the people to reject his queen, Griselda, because of her lowly origins. Gualtiero therefore resolves to prove Griselda’s worth to his ungrateful subjects through a series of cruel trials, beginning with banishing her from the palace and preparing to put another queen in her place.

Act I

In a hall of the royal palace, and before the people, Gualtiero orders the former shepherdess Griselda to return to the forests from whence she came, never more to see her child, Everardo. Gualtiero further tests Griselda’s loyalty by admitting to ordering the murder of their missing daughter, Princess Costanza, though in reality he has brought her up in secret, safe from the whims of his fickle subjects. Ottone, a knight, offers his services to Griselda, with whom he has long been in love and on whose behalf he is prepared to overthrow Gualtiero. Griselda rejects his advances.

Meanwhile, Princess Costanza has arrived at the palace – for it is she whom Gualtiero is ostensibly to marry. She takes leave of her lover Roberto, ignorant of the fact that Gualtiero is her own father – only the king and his confidant Corrado (Prince of Athens and Roberto’s brother), know this. Roberto is overcome with pain at Gualtiero’s kind words to his beloved Costanza, but can do nothing. As Griselda takes leave of her son, the vindictive Ottone abducts the child and flees the palace. Corrado attempts to reassure Griselda and promises that he will rescue Everardo by any means necessary.

Act II

In the royal apartments, Corrado encourages Costanza to remember her loyalty to her first love, Roberto. She understands her duty to the king, however, and so when Roberto appears she adopts a regal attitude and bids him leave. By a hut in the countryside, Griselda is again accosted by Ottone, who says he will kill her son if she does not give in to his advances. A guard duly brings Everardo before Griselda. Corrado, who is concealed, watches all this, and when Griselda still refuses to yield, makes himself known. Fooling Ottone into thinking he supports his cause, Corrado is given the boy, with whom he returns to the safety of the palace.

Costanza and Roberto walk nearby, the former begging her lover to leave her at peace while admitting that she still adores him. They find Griselda asleep in her hut. Costanza feels an unaccountable connection to her, and as she wakes Griselda, too, seems to recognise her long-lost daughter, but she says nothing of this. Gualtiero suddenly appears. Costanza requests that Griselda be her handmaid. Gualtiero, however, who is still scornful of Griselda, tells Costanza that this is none other than the former queen. Corrado arrives with soldiers to warn the king of Ottone’s plans, but Gualtiero decides, to the disbelief of all, to leave his former queen to her fate. Ottone soon arrives with his men to take Griselda away, but Gualtiero returns with Costanza and has Ottone arrested. The king, however, still scorns Griselda, saying that she has only Costanza to thank for her deliverance.


Griselda has returned to the palace as Costanza’s handmaid, but overhears her new mistress and Roberto swearing their undying love for each other. She is incensed at such treachery, and moves to tell the king. Gualtiero appears with Corrado, who has also overheard the lovers and tells the king himself. Surprisingly, Gualtiero tells Griselda it is not her place to question the actions of her mistress, and then commands the two lovers to be faithful to one another.

The final test of Griselda’s noble heart takes place in a magnificent reception room in the palace. Before his subjects Gualtiero attempts to force Griselda to marry Ottone, otherwise he will have her executed. Again Griselda refuses, to the delight of the king, who then reveals his true intent. Even Ottone is pardoned. The people are now convinced of Griselda’s worthiness to be their queen, and she is restored to her daughter, her son, her husband and her throne.

© William Yeoman for Naxos

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